How to Be Compassionate with Arrogant People

Confession time: I struggle with arrogant people.

They get under my skin and make me uglier than I care to admit. Whether it be chance conversations or sustained interactions, my heart can grow colder in the presence of someone who thinks more of themselves than I think they should.

Now, the truth is my reaction to another’s arrogance often reveals my own–I feel humbled and I try distancing myself to feel better. That is a problem in itself. When that happens, repentance is in order.

But you know what else is helping me grow in compassion? Recognizing that behind much of the arrogance we see in others is a deep self-loathing, emptiness.

Early in my pastoral ministry I spent quite a lot of time with a young man who, by anyone’s casual definition, was one of the most arrogant, boastful, self-centred people you’ve ever met.  I kid you not–every conversation was an illumination of his amazing-ness. You almost always left feeling smaller. But as I spent more time with him, I began to see things that changed my view of him, gaping holes in his heart that grew my compassion for him. I realized that this man, who most people pushed away, desperately needed love.

And I’ve seen that since, many times over.

When interacting with arrogant people, here’s what I’ve noticed that has helped me react less defensively and love more intentionally. Maybe it’s not true of every arrogant person we meet, but I’ve been astonished at how often these really are the case.

5 Things About Arrogant People That Helps Grow My Compassion

  1. Arrogant people are often compensating for deep wounds. Behind all the one-upping and positioning is often a person who has been deeply hurt–much of their actions are an attempt to dull that searing pain. Shocking stories of abuse, neglect and harm lurk within.
  2. Arrogant people are often filled with self-loathing. Even though it may not feel like it, all the self-congratulating stories, the incessant boasting, the constant attempts to get you to see them as “better”–all of it–flows from a deep-seated conviction that they are worthless.
  3. Arrogant people are often desperate for someone to notice them. Yes, they make it tough for themselves. Yes, they misplace where they need the attention. But if you can look past what they are saying with their lips and see what they are screaming from their hearts, you will often see someone who feels invisible and unnoticed.hiding behind a facade
  4. Arrogant people often put up false-fronts to hide the true vacuum within. Because they feel empty and worthless and unlovable, arrogant people try to impress you with things they’ve achieved–what else do they have?
  5. Arrogant people are usually deeply deceived. The thing is, they don’t think they are being arrogant. They lack self-awareness and don’t realize how their actions push people away, which in turn feeds more deeply into their own hurt, their self-loathing, and their feelings of invisibility and emptiness. Remembering this makes me more gentle in my approach.

So what can we do? How can we become more compassionate toward arrogant people? 

  1. Be patient with them. Stay in relationship. It’s so easy to push away, ignore and avoid. Which is what many people do. Be the person who stays connected, believing that over time, you will begin to see and love this person as Jesus does.
  2. Be honest with them without getting defensive. I don’t think it’s wrong to say, when appropriate, “You know, when you tell me stories like that, you make me feel small and defensive. I don’t want to react that way to you.”  
  3. Don’t join the game. Refuse to match their boastful story with one of your own. Focus on what is really true, what truly matters. Don’t let the way they make you feel in the moment determine how you speak and act.
  4. Look past the facade and hear what they are saying with their hearts. Then speak to that. For example, “I want you to know that I don’t care for you because you are successful or pretty or smart. I care for you because you are made in the image of God.” 
  5. Pray. Pray for them to experience God’s deep, transforming love. And ask the Holy Spirit to help you show them unconditional love.

Let me ask you:

  • How have you typically responded to arrogant people?

  • What has been helped you become more compassionate toward them?


4 thoughts on “How to Be Compassionate with Arrogant People”

  1. So well written, Tom. I know for myself, I do not try to ‘out do’ folks, I try to lift them up. However, I certainly know that from my background, growing up in the southern U.S. as a female, I have had to ‘prove’ myself to not be treated like a brainless blonde idiot. My father has had a HUGE impact on my life in making me feel I can do anything and helping me to do so. I will not go into details, but I could tell you a books worth of stories where I have had to defend myself, physically as well as for my own mental well being because of stereotyping. Yes, this makes me a bit defensive, but I also have a lifetime of experiences that allow me to be able to participate in conversation. However, being an outgoing person by nature (and my father’s nurturing), this is easy for me. I have to be careful not to speak too much. -That is a struggle as I do not realize I am doing it sometimes. THANK YOU for your article to bring this back into focus, Tom. I appreciate your insight. 🙂

    1. Thank you for sharing this, Diana!! I know how difficult the road has been for many (like yourself) when so many forces seek to put you down. As I think about loving arrogant people, I certainly don’t want to suggest that we should allow others to be put down or stereotyped–we need to speak up for others, fight for justice, and love with grace. And all the while, love those who may perpetuate oppression, hoping and praying that through our love and witness,we can call them deeper into God’s grace.

  2. Tom – thanks so much for the very wise counsel. I had exactly this experience this morning (sitting in a coffee shop) and although I don’t have a specific strategy that I am aware of using this post caused me to think about what I did. First I seemed to acknowledge that I was talking to an arrogant person and immediately accepted that although I would ask lots of questions there would be none returned (ie. there was no interest in me). I realized that I make a real attempt to communicate that I am really listening so I closed my computer and I made direct eye contact. Then I realized that I could not respond or challenge everything that was said so I chose very carefully the things I did respond to. My response, usually some degree of disagreement, had to be said in a way I would want to be spoken to. OK that’s all I can think of but with your post I feel I still have a long way to go (knowing that the arrogance may remain). I should add that I felt everything you mentioned in your opening paragraph.

    1. I love this, Murray. What a challenge – your openness and response is such a good example of us all trying to work out grace in real life. There sure is no magic pill!

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